Unleashing your inner dirtbag (41 nights of free accommodation)

On the 28th of November I checked out of a cheap hotel in a town called El Tambo, not far North of Cuenca in Ecuador. I had left Cuenca two days prior after waiting almost a week for a package, and the day that I left I climbed up into the mountains before finding a hidden spot to sleep in an old grandstand overlooking a small local school.

The following day I continued climbing, and hadn’t made it much further when I started to feel ill. I tried to remedy it with a super frosty coca-cola but quickly realised it was something else. I checked into a hotel and spent the night in a cold sweat in my underpants, alternating between heavy bed covers and none at all when they became saturated. The following day I dosed myself on ibuprofen and stumbled around the small village looking for something sugary to quickly boost energy levels before deciding I needed to spend another night in the hotel.

One day later I was feeling great again and headed off North on the Panamerican highway as far as a small town called Chunchi, where I tried my luck at staying at the local fire station (Bomberos). Success.

They let me roll my mat out in their gym and I wandered off into town to check my email’s. It turned out a German cyclist I’d met in Peru wasn’t so far behind me, having checked himself into a local bombero station 30km or so back. I rode slowly the next day and he caught up at the bottom of a descent a little further up the highway.


Jonas (the German) was particularly great at finding unconventional places to sleep, and what ended up happening after this were 41 consecutive days from the south of Ecuador until the South of Colombia where no payment was made for accomodation. Proving that really you don’t need a great deal to travel cheaply if you have the right attitude and a goofy smile.

I’ll emphasise that a lot of these places were urban or semi-urban, as I personally don’t think it’s so difficult to head off and camp for this long in national parks etc – we were as resourceful as we could be in order to find some of these places hidden amongst other people.

The full list is provided at the bottom of this post but over the 41 days we exhausted options such as local Bomberos, in the middle of town plazas, futbol pitches in larger cities, guide huts in ecological reserves, casa de ciclistas, warm showers hosts, refuge shelters in national parks, volcanic refugios, wild camping, local schools, local’s house’s, police stations and health centres.

Scroll to the bottom of this post for the full list, or have a look at some of the photos. Some were beautiful places to camp, others highlighted local hospitality, and others were downright filthy. All offered a free place to lay my head and let me spend money on other things I might not normally. By the end justifying any expense became a little more difficult as it became clear that daily spending had dropped through the floor.


Tixan town Plaza, Ecuador. Apparently every kid in town was interested in the resident stink bags.

Near Riobamba, Ecuador. Crossing sketchy bridges to find peaceful campsites.

Baños, Ecuador. The most touristy place we slept, we spent 3 nights on the futbol pitch, moving for games during the day.

Inside a farmhouse near Pujili in Ecuador.

Laguna Quilotoa, Ecuador.

Bunkmates. Near Pujili, Ecuador.

With the Bomberos at Laguna de Yahuarcocha, Ecuador.

Depserately searching for shade during a day off at Laguna Quilotoa, Ecuador.

The real story of this post is Bombero hospitality. Bomberos de Ecuador, Checa.


Full list:

Night Date Where? Detail
 1 28/11/16 Bomberos de Ecuador, Chunchi Floor in gym
 2 29/11/16 Town Plaza, Tixan
 3 30/11/16 Wild Camp, River near Riobamba
 4 01/12/16 Bomberos de Ecuador, Penipe Camp in carpark
 5 02/12/16 Futbol Coliseum, Baños In tents
 6 03/12/16 Tungurahua Refugio on active volcano
 7-8 04/12/16 Futbol Coliseum, Baños
 9 06/12/16 Bomberos de Ecuador, Patate Camp in carport
10 07/12/16 Bomberos de Ecuador, Portillo
11 08/12/16 Small village school In tents
12 09/12/16 Farmhouse en route after Pujili Stayed inside on floor
13-14 10/12/16 Wild camp Laguna Quilotoa
15 12/12/16 Bomberos de Ecuador, Sigchos Camped on volleyball court
16 13/12/16 Policia Nacional de Ecuador, Lasso Camped behind station
17-19 14/12/16 Parque Nacional Cotopaxi Slept on floor of refuge shelter
20-30 17/12/16 Casa de Ciclistas in Tumbaco
31 28/12/16 Bomberos de Ecuador, Checa Given mattress inside
32 29/12/16 Bomberos de Ecuador, Cayambe Given room inside to sleep
33 30/12/16 Bomberos de Ecuador, Laguna de Yahuarcocha Camped by laguna
34 31/12/16 Behind health centre, Mira Camped
35 01/01/17 Bomberos de Ecuador, El Angel Given mattress in dormitory
36 02/01/17 Reserva Ecologica El Angel Slept in guides hut
37-38 03/01/17 Warm Showers host, Ipiales (Colombia)
39-40 05/01/17 Warm Showers host, Pasto (Colombia)
41 07/01/17  Bomberos de Colombia, Laguna de la Cocha Allowed to camp on balcony


  1. Hi Jesse
    so glad the 41 nights was not because of an illness!! That was what I thought when I read the first paragraph of your post. Best wishes and safe travelling as always. Rosie

    • Luckily no Rosie. I’ve been sick at least once in every country and it usually disappears after a night or two. Makes you realise how nice it is in Oz to have relatively good food hygiene etc.

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